Rated | Alphabetical
| Highest Rated 2006
of the Stone Age: Songs for the Deaf
Posted: August 31,
The Gentleman (exclusive
to Shaking Through)
If any hard rock band has the musical authority to title an album
Songs for the Deaf, it's Queens of the Stone Age. Building on the
bedrock bottom end of their self-titled debut and 2000's Rated R, chief
Queens (and former Kyuss bandmates) Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri craft a set
of songs that could conceivably live up to the album title's promise. Not
through overpowering metallic riffing, but rather through the
rafter-rattling buzz of Oliveri's bass grooves (hammered home with
propulsive force by ex-Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighter Dave Grohl,
who guests as drummer throughout, and lays down a percussive backbone of
solid steel on "Song for the Dead"). And Homme's fuzz-guitar crackles and
hums with a droning, mesmeric flair.
So why doesn't Songs for the Deaf receive a higher rating? Because
as commandingly executed as the Queens' signature sound is, Deaf is
little more than just a platform for that sound. The same can be said for
dozens of similar bands, most notably the Melvins, but unlike the Melvins,
the Queens don't set out merely to explore and expand their sound; Homme,
especially, seeks to write real songs in the process.
But so far, he and Oliveri haven't quite found the happy middle ground;
most of the songs on Songs, including the bracing "First It Giveth"
and the moody "The Sky is Fallin'," simply fail to make much of an
impression beyond the impressive murmuring-buzzsaw approach. And most of the
songs that do make such an impact -- "No One Knows," "Go With the Flow" and
"Another Love Song" -- are ill-advised attempts at the kind of "stoner-rock"
melodicism that a less accomplished band like Fu Manchu can get away with --
in the hands of more proficient virtuosos like Homme and Oliveri, the
results are an awkward fit.
Even more awkward is the so-called "hidden track" (how can it be hidden
when it's announced as such on the package's track listing?). "Mosquito
Song" should have been hidden; it's a wildly misinformed foray into
"Dust in the Wind"-era Kansas territory, of which the less said, the better.
On a brighter note, the sorely under-utilized Mark Lanegan (Screaming
Trees) livens things up considerably with his great gravel-throated delivery
on the evocative "Hangin' Tree" and the solid "God is in the Radio," but the
results are a bit like aural ketchup on bland cheese-fries; his masterful
presence doesn't add to the songs so much as distract the listener from
their hollow cores. Even so, a little -- hell, a lot -- more Lanegan
could have bumped Songs into a higher ratings bracket for sure.
None of which is meant to paint Songs for the Deaf as a
disappointment; it's not, exactly. If it finds the capable Queens coming up
against the limitations of the sonic approach that is their bread and
butter, it's a good problem for the band to have, especially since every
indication is that it's one Homme and Oliveri should easily be able to
overcome in the future. So, yes, Songs does prove a memorable listen
-- just, as it turns out, a Teflon one, whose positives slide harmlessly away
soon after it's finished.
Songs for the Curious
Rated R, the Queens' second album, is definitely worth
seeking out for those interested in more of the band's work. Guest drummer
Dave Grohl, it goes without saying, can be found in the back catalogs of
both Nirvana and his current alt-pop-rock outfit, Foo Fighters. And those
impressed by Mark Lanegan's visceral vocal style should seek out his work
with Screaming Trees, notably Uncle Anesthesia, Sweet Oblivion
and Dust, as well as his solo work, most notably the classic
Whiskey for the Holy Ghost.
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